Authority is the power to control the actions of people and the resources of an organization and comes from a person’s position.
Responsibility is the accountability that people have in relationship to their authority. I often read articles and forum comments in which writers use the words authority and responsibility interchangeably. People with authority are responsible for the results of their actions and for the actions of the people over whom they have authority. President Harry Truman said, “The buck stops here.” In making that statement, President Truman was stating that, in keeping with his absolute authority over the executive branch, he accepted absolute responsibility for the actions of the people in the executive branch of government.
Leadership is the power to guide, direct, or sway the actions of people.
Some leaders have authority. Some leaders do not have authority. Elected officials have the authority that the law assigns to their office. Business leaders have the authority that the company guidelines assign to their function.
Writers, artists, designers, speakers, and others who have no authority often become leaders through their message, their works, or their methods. These people found nations, lead movements, set trends, found religions, and establish schools of thought as the result of the actions they took to sway and guide other people.
Titles create confusion in the relationship of authority, responsibility, accountability, and leadership.
Does a manager have authority? Is a manager responsible for performance? Is a manager a leader?
The answer to all these questions is, “Maybe.” A manager with no authority is not responsible for performance. A manager with no authority or personal influence over a group is not a leader. If a manager fails as the result of a person or group refusing to accept the manager’s authority, the manager is not accountable for the actions of the person or group. The person or group that does not obey the authority of a manager is accountable for their actions.
Image: Hamed Saber/Flickr